Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Friday the Pentagon stands ready to dispatch more troops to the border region if President Trump follows through with his pledge to increase the military presence along the U.S.-Mexico boundary.
Trump said after touring a section of recently upgraded border fencing in Calexico, Calif., last week, “We’re going to bring up some more military” to deal with what he said were more than 70,000 illegal migrants rushing the border.
Shanahan said the Pentagon has had conversations with the Department of Homeland Security but has yet to receive a formal request.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’ll provide more support to the border,” he said in response to a reporter’s question as he prepared to meet with German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. “Our support is very elastic, and given the deterioration there at the border, you would expect that we would provide more support.” Shanahan said he anticipates the support will be similar to what the military has already provided with several thousand troops, barrier construction, transport, and surveillance.
Shanahan will meet with a planning team at the Pentagon over the weekend to prepare for the potential request, he said.
“It will follow up with where are we on barrier construction, where do we stand on troops deployed, and then in the areas we anticipate, what type of preliminary plans should we be doing prior to receiving a request for assistance,” he said.
Democrats have been highly critical of the deployment of active-duty troops to the border, and many have cited a leaked internal memo the Marine Corps commandant sent to the Navy secretary warning that unexpected expenses, such as hurricane damage and border operations, could force him to cancel routine training and degrade combat readiness.
But in Senate testimony this week, Gen. Robert Neller insisted his memo was being misconstrued. “To say that going to the border was degrading our readiness is not an accurate statement,” Neller told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday.
Neller’s March 18 memo listed eight categories of unfunded and unexpected expenses. Hurricane recovery was at the top of the list, but a number of expenses were included, such as the raise for civilian employees, which was not in the budget.
“We have a shortfall of just under $300 million, of which the border mission is less than 2 percent,” Neller said. “So my intent was to just simply lay out for my boss what these were and ask for support in trying to figure out how we might fund them.”
Pressed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Neller conceded some Marines, who are not doing the jobs they would normally do, could see a small degradation in their unit readiness, but he said it depended on the unit.
“Some of the units have gone down there and they’ve done tasks that are more in line with their core mission. Like engineer units or MP units. Aviation units that were assigned to that early on have actually improved their readiness because they are able to fly certain profiles and things,” he testified.
Neller reports to his civilian boss, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, who requested the memo and jumped to Neller’s defense at the hearing.
“The main stress that we were dealing with at the time, senator, was the hurricane, which was imposing the greatest cost on the Marine Corps,” Spencer told Warren. “Five hundred men for a month at the southern border is $1.25 million. In my mind, is that affecting my readiness stress? No, it’s not.”
Neller said so far border operations have cost the Marine Corps $6.2 million.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said the UK government should not extradite Julian Assange to the US, where he faces a computer hacking charge.
The Wikileaks co-founder was arrested for a separate charge at Ecuador’s London embassy on Thursday, where he had been granted asylum since 2012.
Mr Corbyn said Assange should not be extradited “for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan”.
Meanwhile, Ecuador’s leader expressed anger at how Assange had behaved.
Australian-born Assange, 47, sought refuge in the Knightsbridge embassy seven years ago, to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault case that has since been dropped. But Ecuador abruptly withdrew its asylum and invited the police to arrest Assange on Thursday.
After his dramatic arrest, he was taken to Westminster Magistrates’ Court and found guilty of a British charge of breaching bail. He spent Thursday night in custody and is facing up to 12 months in prison for that conviction.
The Met said it cost an estimated £13.2m to police Ecuador’s London embassy between June 2012 and October 2015, when the force withdrew the physical presence of officers.
The Swedish authorities are now considering whether to reopen an investigation into the allegations of sexual assault, which Assange denies.
The US government has also charged him with allegations of conspiracy to break into a computer, relating to a massive leak of classified US government documents. The UK will decide whether to extradite Assange, and if he was convicted, he could face up to five years in jail.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “this is all about Wikileaks and all of that embarrassing information about the activities of the American military and security services that was made public”.
But she said Assange should also face the criminal justice system if the Swedish government charged him.
Swedish prosecutors dropped a rape investigation into Assange into 2017 because they were unable to formally notify him of the allegations – a necessary step in proceeding with the case – while he remained in the Ecuadorian embassy.
Assange battle ‘now political’
In a tweet, Mr Corbyn shared a video said to be of Pentagon footage – which had been released by Wikileaks – of a 2007 air strike which implicated US military in the killing of civilians and two journalists.
The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent James Landale said backing Assange is not without political risk and will not find universal favour among Labour MPs – but Mr Corbyn’s intervention “means the battle over Assange’s future will now be as much political as it is legal”.
The editor of Wikileaks, Kristinn Hrafnsson, has expressed fears that the US could file more serious charges against Assange, and that if he was convicted he could be behind bars for “decades”.
Mr Hrafnsson added that Assange had been thrown “overboard” by Ecuador – and the country was “horrible” to treat him like that.
‘He was a problem’
Meanwhile in Ecuador, President Lenin Moreno criticised Assange, claiming that after spending seven years in the country’s embassy he had dismissed Ecuador by describing it as an insignificant country.
“We had treated him as a guest,” he said. “But not anymore.”
Ecuador’s ambassador to the UK, Jaime Marchan, also previously said Assange had been “continually a problem” while he was living in the embassy.
Meanwhile, a man who is alleged to have links with Assange has been arrested while trying to leave Ecuador, the country’s officials said.
The man – who has been identified by supporters as a Swedish software developer called Ola Bini – had been trying to board a flight to Japan.
Assange is due to face a hearing over his possible extradition to the US on 2 May.
During a briefing at the White House following Assange’s arrest, US President Donald Trump was asked by reporters if he stood by remarks that he made during his election campaign when he said he loved Wikileaks.
“I know nothing about Wikileaks,” said Mr Trump. “It’s not my thing.”
He added: “I’ve been seeing what happened with Assange and that will be a determination, I would imagine, mostly by the attorney general, who’s doing an excellent job.”
Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, said they would be fighting the extradition request. She said it set a “dangerous precedent” where any journalist could face US charges for “publishing truthful information about the United States”.
She said she had visited Assange in the police cells where he thanked supporters and said: “I told you so.”
Assange had predicted that he would face extradition to the US if he left the embassy.
Meanwhile, Australia said it had received a request for consular assistance after Assange was taken from the embassy.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Assange will not get “special treatment” and will have to “make his way through whatever comes his way in terms of the justice system”.
The arrest was welcomed by the government on Thursday. Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons: “This goes to show that in the UK, no-one is above the law.”
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the arrest was the result of “years of careful diplomacy” and that it was “not acceptable” for someone to “escape facing justice”.
Assange set up Wikileaks in 2006 with the aim of obtaining and publishing confidential documents and images.
The organisation hit the headlines four years later when it released footage of US soldiers killing civilians from a helicopter in Iraq.
Former US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was arrested in 2010 for disclosing more than 700,000 confidential documents, videos and diplomatic cables to the anti-secrecy website. She said she only did so to spark debates about foreign policy, but US officials said the leak put lives at risk.
She was found guilty by a court martial in 2013 of charges including espionage. However, her jail sentence was later commuted.
Manning was recently jailed for refusing to testify before an investigation into Wikileaks’ role in revealing the secret files.
Vladimir Putin is a dedicated enemy of the United States and the U.S.-led international order. But while the proof of Putin’s enmity towards America is abundant and clear, Putin is an excellent PR man when he wants to be.
Note, for example, his performance at the International Arctic Forum in his home city of St. Petersburg on Wednesday.
First, Putin played the tough guy. As thousands in the audience watched and the cameras rolled, Putin saw that his economic development minister, Maxim Oreshkin, was using his phone while Putin was speaking. Big mistake. Putin asked Oreshkin how much Russia had invested in import substitution in 2018. Oreskhin didn’t know the answer. Putin then publicly humiliated him. This is was the red meat for state TV: the macho man offering decidedly Russian black humor.
But Putin had a very different message for the foreign news media.
This alternate strategy was encapsulated when Putin was asked whether he wants President Trump to be reelected. Putin took a moment to consider his answer and then responded. U.S. policy towards Russia is often negative, Putin explained, but there are areas of compromise even on issues of disagreement such as Syria. Then Putin cleverly shifted the conversation to an area where international opinion is most unfavorable to the U.S.: President Trump’s refusal to support the Paris climate accord. Putin presented himself as the earnest intermediary here. “The U.S. emits a lot of greenhouse gases we have to understand that so we have to find a solution. We have to somehow engage with the U.S. in a dialogue.”
The diplomatic nice talk offered, Putin then returned to the original election question. It wasn’t for Russia to decide, he said. “This is not the sphere where such categories as ‘I want,’ ‘I don’t want’ apply. We respect the choice of the American people and whoever is elected we will work with him or her.”
The crowd clapped enthusiastically.
Of course, Putin’s warm earnestness is actually deliberate deception. As in 2016, Putin will interfere with the 2020 election to support the candidate whose victory he believes is most in Russia’s interest.
Yet the diplomatic lying is very clever. It’s not just that it sounds good, it’s that it subtly plays to the belief that Putin is misrepresented in international media. That he isn’t, in fact, the leader who blitzes some Syrian towns and covers up chemical weapons attacks in others. That he isn’t the leader who suffocates innocents in English country villages and kills journalists. That he isn’t the man who wants to dominate eastern Europe and, if undeterred, would do so by force.
Clever indeed. Putin’s words in St. Petersburg were classic KGB “deza” or disinformation operations. He said things that a lot of people want to believe. And thus Putin cleverly frames himself as the good guy.
Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced Tuesday night her acting deputy secretary is resigning.
Claire Grady, who was next in line after it was announced by President Trump over the weekend that Nielsen was resigning, was reportedly pushed out of the position to make room for Trump’s pick, Kevin McAleenan, the chief of Customs and Border Protection.
The resignation is the latest in a massive shakeup at the department. Trump announced over Twitter on Sunday that Nielsen was leaving after a tense meeting on immigration and the border. Soon after, Nielsen shared her letter of resignation and said she would officially depart Wednesday after helping with the transition.
Randolph “Tex” Alles, director of the Secret Service, left the White House on Monday after reports that he was told he had 10 days to exit. Trump picked Secret Service assistant director of the Office of Protective Operations, James Murray, to take over May 1.
Two other immigration officials who are reportedly expected to leave the Trump administration soon are L. Francis Cissna, the head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, and John Mitnick, a senior member of Nielsen’s team.
Nielsen announced Grady’s resignation in a string of tweets.
“Acting Deputy Secretary Claire Grady has offered the President her resignation, effective tomorrow. For the last two years, Claire has served @DHSgov w excellence and distinction. She has been an invaluable asset to DHS – a steady force and a knowledgeable voice,” Nielsen said.
“Claire has led the men and women of DHS who support our operational staff. Her sound leadership and effective oversight have impacted every DHS office and employee and made us stronger as a Department. Clair has had a remarkable career in public service,” she added. “- 28 years at the Departments of Homeland Security & Defense – that is coming to a close. I am thankful for Claire’s expertise, dedication & friendship & am filled w gratitude for her exemplary service to DHS & to our country. I wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”
Acting Deputy Secretary Claire Grady has offered the President her resignation, effective tomorrow. For the last two years, Claire has served @DHSgov w excellence and distinction. She has been an invaluable asset to DHS – a steady force and a knowledgeable voice.
— Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen (@SecNielsen) April 9, 2019